Many parents struggle with whether or not to tell their child that they have ADD or ADHD, and then how to do it. We decided that we wanted our son to know and understand what ADHD is and not to be ashamed of it. If we weren’t going to talk about it or acknowledge it, we feared it would send that message that there was something wrong about it and therefore, something wrong with him. This is not an easy task and not one done all at once. It was explained gradually and in ways he could understand. We also got feedback from him so that we could make it make sense for him.
When we first went for the 6 hours of testing appointment I explained to him that he was going to do some activities so that the Dr. could help us figure out a way to make things easier so that he wouldn’t have a hard time at school and not get in trouble so much. (He was 8 and in 2nd grade) He actually enjoyed the testing. We talked about how every brain is different. His brain is really good at math and figuring things out and he can think of many things at once, or he can switch topics quickly sometimes, but other times it can be really hard to stop one thing and switch to the next topic. This can make it really hard to do what the teacher needs him to do in class. We told him that this was just one step to helping figure things out. We went to a counselor and she told him that his brain was like a race car that liked to drive itself all over the track and we had to work on slowing things down so that he could make a choice and be in control of the car.
We choose to also use medication. This made such a quick difference. Everyone noticed. His school counselor commented that he could see all the great parenting coming through now that he had more control over his actions and words. ADHD is not a choice, the behavior that often comes with it, is not a choice. It is often a reaction to stimulus without logical thought. (Not that those with ADHD aren’t logical, it’s just that under stress and pressure to follow rules, etc may cause them to act quickly and be more impulsive than they would be without the stress and added pressure). We explained how the medication helped balance out his brain chemicals so he could be more purposeful in his actions. We also looked up celebrities and “rich and famous” people with ADHD. We talked about how having ADHD was a benefit for them and how they used it to help them do things that might be harder for someone without ADHD. We talked about all the good things that come with it, namely creativity. We pointed out all the great ideas he has, all the stories he had written, how he enjoyed art and music and how math was so easy. We stressed to him that he didn’t need to feel bad about having ADHD, no one did anything to cause it. He was given the gift of ADHD and that God would help him find how he was to use it.
At his school every year they set aside time to discuss special needs. In 3rd grade they talk about Autism, ADHD and some other mental health issues. During the discussion he told his class that he had ADHD. The parent of another child in the class told me that her son told her that he thought my son was very brave and he wished he was more like him. That is not something you hear much as a parent of a child with ADHD! I was so proud that my son was not ashamed of his diagnosis. This also gave him the freedom to speak up when he needed help. His teachers and counselors said that he is able to advocate for himself! As a 4th grade student, he knew when he needed help. I’m sure there were still times he didn’t realize exactly what help he needed, but I was so happy to hear that he had accepted that sometimes he needs help and he is confident enough to ask for it.
I would love to eradicate the stigma of ADHD and all mental health issues. I can’t do that on my own, but I can teach my son not to be ashamed. I can teach him to advocate for himself and help pave the way for others that face similar issues. Maybe when peers hear him speak up about his ADHD it will give confidence to someone else. Maybe it will encourage others to see that it’s not something to be ashamed of, not something to hide or lie about. It is what it is and just like anything we are dealt in life we have to learn how to live with it. Just like we teach acceptance for other visible differences we need to teach acceptance about invisible ones too.
To read about our experience with medication read here.